Volunteer Spotlight – Compassion from experience

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Rick Brewer feels he was meant to volunteer here. He first became part of our growing family as a patient at UNC Hospitals: After Dr. Matthew Nielsen performed a radical prostatectomy to robotically remove a cancerous growth in his prostate, Rick spent a week at SECU Family House recovering. While here, he vowed that he would return - not as a guest, but as a volunteer.

True to his word, this 63 years-young retired high school biology teacher and coach moved from Calabash, North Carolina, to Durham a few months later. He and his wife Tracy wanted to be closer to their son and their growing family, and Rick wanted to volunteer at Family House. 

Rick has quickly established a reputation for being a jack-of-all-trades; he’s quite handy with a tool or two.  When he’s not working on House projects during his volunteer shifts, Rick spends a great deal of time listening and sharing his experience as a guest with our guests. 

Rick Brewer

A common ground already exists between him and so many who walk through our doors.  For example, one of the hardest parts about hearing his initial diagnosis was thinking about how it would affect Tracy (“my biggest hero”, he says) and their three adult kids.  “Once you get a diagnosis like that, you can’t help but get emotional about it,” he says. “Having cancer makes you realize the importance of spending time with your family.”   

He tells guests they’ll feel safe here, and that the House will give them “great peace of mind”. He describes the home-cooked meals and assures our guests they’re in a great place to truly relax and recover.  “I tell them there are always people here looking out for you, “ he says. “I want to make them feel comfortable during their stay here.”

Exceptional, dedicated and hardworking volunteers like Rick are what make our House a home.  Many of our volunteers have been with us since we opened our doors in 2008.  We have a feeling Rick will be around for a long time, too.  “I can’t imagine not volunteering here,” he says. We feel the same way!

Compassion is a common thread

Vicki Lotz and Hazel Gibbs both volunteer regularly at Family House and agree Rick brings a special compassion to his work.

Vicki has been a volunteer at Family House for over six years.  A recently retired career counselor, she was looking for a way to give back to her much-loved Chapel Hill community.  You can find Vicki assisting our guests at the front desk during the Monday, 3 p.m.-6 p.m. shift.

Vicki appreciates how Rick can relate to our guests and understand what our guests need.  She says this compassion is the common thread amongst all our volunteers: they share a desire to make a positive difference here at Family House by providing a loving and safe environment.

For many of our guests, this is their first time away from home.  Compassion means providing comfort to the wife whose husband is gravely ill; listening to spouses apart for the first time while their loved one is being treated; helping guests cope during extraordinarily challenging times.  One of the difficult things about working at the front desk each week, Vicki says, is that as you get to know and care for many of our long-term guests, and you don’t know what to expect the next time you see them.  Vicki brings her own special understanding to guests who live with terminal illness.  Her husband, John Lotz, best known as the head coach of the Florida Gators men's basketball  team, and then as a long-time assistant under coach Dean Smith with UNC basketball, passed away from a brain tumor nearly 14 years ago.

The magic that happens here

Like Vicki, Hazel Gibbs is a long-time volunteer and knows many of her fellow volunteers well, including Rick Brewer.  She feels it’s a “testimony to Family House” that folks like Rick want to give of their time once they’re no longer a guest here.   You can call him anytime and he’ll show up for a guest, she says.

Hazel is a retired Director of Human Resources with the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City School District.  She wears many hats at Family House that include volunteering at the front desk, folding laundry, providing regular meals for our guests, and entering house statistics into our data base.  Oftentimes, when you hear loud laughter coming from the solarium, you can bet it’s from Hazel and the laundry-folding group.

Volunteers who see each other regularly form relationships and keep track of each others’ comings and goings, developing strong commitments to each other.  In Hazel’s opinion, “That’s part of the magic that happens here.”

Hazel describes some of the work volunteers do:  They cover the front desk from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. They log housing requests. They answer a cazillion questions.  They answer the front desk phones.  They give directions.  They suggest places to dine.  They fold laundry, provide meals, get taxis for guests, clean the kitchen, pick up food from Trader Joes, stock the pantry, do yard work, transport guests to appointments, volunteer at fundraisers.  Volunteers are truly the “life blood” of the house, she says. 

Life, heart and spirit

Hazel feels that Family House has an energy and a life unto its own.  She’s continually amazed at what’s offered to our guests and to the community at large. Volunteering here has impacted “my soul and my heart, “ she says. “You know that you’re making a valuable contribution here.”

The welcome starts when you walk in the door, says Hazel, and this welcoming atmosphere is the “life, heart and spirit of the house.”  Thanks to a large group of dedicated volunteers like Rick, Vicki and Hazel, Family House is a haven for warmth, safety and love for so many families in North Carolina and beyond. 





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